Monday, May 5, 2008
Chief Rabbi: Decision to Overturn Conversions Won't Stand
by Hillel Fendel
(IsraelNN.com) Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has assured government ministers that the recent Chief Rabbinical High Court decision to overturn recent conversions to Judaism will have no effect. His basis for such a sweeping statement is unclear.
A leading religious-Zionist rabbi bitterly castigated the High Court's ruling, and said he would work immediately to form an alternative to the Chief Rabbinate's conversion courts if it is not overturned (see below).
It was reported late last week that the Rabbinate's High Court had overturned a specific conversion of a woman who apparently never lived a religious Jewish lifestyle, as required by Jewish Law. In addition, the Court ruled all the conversions performed in the last several years by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, the head of the Conversion Administration, were hereby null and void. The number of people directed affected by this decision is unknown, but could be in the thousands.
Rabbi Cherlow: The ruling stands in total opposition to Jewish Law, embarrasses and shames a great Rabbi, violates the Torah's commands not to cause sorrow to converts, and deals a terrible blow to the fight against intermarriage.
At the heart of the matter is a halakhic [Jewish legal] dispute that has largely been drawn along hareidi-religious and national-religious lines. Both disagree with the minority Halakhic opinion that a convert need not affirm his intention to observe the Torah's commandments; they rather demand that the prospective convert display sincere intention to observe a religious lifestyle. They disagree, however, as to how to implement this requirement.
One school says that if a convert appears to be sincere in his desire to be a religious Jew when he appears before the rabbinical court, the judges may suffice with this and allow the conversion. In addition, they need not check up later on his "progress."
The more hareidi school of thought is that if a convert is later seen to be living a non-religious lifestyle, this renders the conversion invalid almost automatically.
Judges Revoke Hundreds of Conversions, or More
The three judges of the High Rabbinical Court, representing the second approach, abruptly revoked the Jewishness of the woman in question in the specifica case at hand. In addition, they found irregularities in the way Rabbi Druckman - who represented the more lenient approach - carried out his court's conversions, and blanketly revoked all of them.
Rabbi Druckman has a sterling reputation among his many thousands of students, and regularly remains awake until after 1 in the morning in order to meet with and help the many people who need him. For decades, he maintained a harrowing schedule as the founder and head of the Yeshivat Or Etzion institutions (including a military yeshiva high school), father to nine children, head of the nationwide Yeshivot Bnei Akiva umbrella organization, teacher in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, Knesset Member, advisor and helper to uncounted people who turned to him at all hours of the day, and more.
Rabbi Amar: No Need to Worry
Rabbi Amar - who, as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, has ultimate authority for the courts under him - was angered at the decision. He tried to control the damage on Monday by assuring Absorption Minister Yaakov Edry that new immigrants who had converted under Rabbi Druckman would not be affected by the ruling. Rabbi Amar said that the issue never should have been judged in that forum, and that he would make sure to have it officially overturned.
Edry had said that the ruling had dealt a death blow to the entire system of conversion in Israel, as well as to the motivation of Israeli non-Jews - mostly Russian immigrants - to begin the conversion process.
Rabbi Amar and Minister Edry agreed that the issue of conversion is a matter of top national priority, and that all those involved must contribute to the national effort towards the full integration of new immigrants into the Jewish nation and Israeli society.
Orlev: Sharply Against Ruling
Rabbi Amar also met with MK Zevulun Orlev, the head of the National Religious Party, who had taken a sharp stance against the Chief Rabbinate's decision. Orlev expressed satisfaction with Rabbi Amar's promise to overturn the ruling, but said, "He must not only say it, but must do it... The goal is that the [conversion] courts must be convert-friendly, ruling in keeping with a national and Zionist approach."
A leading Conversion Authority figure told Arutz-7 that he does not believe the ruling will be able to withstand a Supreme Court appeal, "as the High Rabbinical Court probably does not have ultimate authority over the Conversion Courts in the Chief Rabbinate." This is likely to be put to the test, as an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely.
Rabbi Cherlow's Attack
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leading figure in the religious-Zionist camp - he heads the Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah and is a founding member of the Tzohar Rabbis Organization - wrote a scathing attack against the High Court's decision. He called it a "desecration of G-d's Name," and more.
The rabbi concluded by writing that the ruling it was not overturned, he would work to create an alternative conversion court system - a surprising call coming from a leader of the camp that has traditionally supported the Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Cherlow wrote that the ruling:
* stands in total opposition to Jewish Law,
* embarrasses and shames a great Rabbi [Rabbi Druckman],
* violates the Torah's commands not to cause sorrow to converts,
* and deals a terrible blow to the efforts against intermarriage.
The rabbi wrote that the ruling also:
* leads to intervention by the secular Supreme Court in Jewish Law,
* is an unfair Halakhic intervention in an "ugly struggle against the religious-Zionist rabbinic world,"
* will lead to continued erosion of the status of rabbinical courts in the State of Israel,
* as well as to a deepening of the rift in the rabbinic world.
Rabbi Cherlow left his most hard-hitting claim for last:
** "It is the worst case of desecration of G-d's Name."
"If the ruling is not overturned," he concluded, "a genuine conversion authority will be immediately established that will operate according to Jewish Law and not according to politics, and will deal with one of the supreme missions in the Nation of Israel in a manner that is in keeping with the Torah and not via ugly manipulations. We can no longer evade this responsibility..."